Some years after the conclusion of Midnight Tides, the societies of Lether and its new Tiste Edur rulers have morphed into a twisted, tyrannical empire. Rhulad Sengar, the Emperor of a Thousand Deaths, descends into madness in the sinking Eternal Domicile as his fleets scour the world for a champion powerful enough to slay him beyond the torment of eternal resurrection. Lether's wealthy and powerful rule in his name, their position intact and their greed greater than ever. The Edur warriors and warlocks find themselves stretched across the vast distances of the Empire, some assimilating into the comforts of Letherii power, others determined to restore the old ways.
Into Letheras, the imperial capital, arrives the great fleet commanded by the Emperor's estranged father Tomad Sengar to deliver the newest group of champions. Urns are prepared for their ashes in the Eternal Domicile well in advance, as the Crippled God's sorcery makes Rhulad close to invincible. Yet among the newcomers are Icarium Lifestealer and the Teblor warrior Karsa Orlong, and it seems that the land itself remembers Icarium. While they await Rhulad's whim, the city around them is brought under a reign of terror by the Patriotists, the imperial secret police, who free themselves of all constraints on their power. Beneath the illusion of absolute control, however, the entire structure of power is challenged by a hidden, genius opponent who leads the Patriotists into a game of cat-and-mouse and plans to shake Lether's society to its foundations.
At Drene on the north-eastern peripheries of the Empire, Lether is well on its way to reducing yet another people, the Awl, to dispossession and scattering. Over the reluctance of both the Letherii military and their newly assigned Edur overseer, the Empire is driven into a hasty and senseless war by the greed of Drene's Factor, Letur Anict, for the Awl tribes' highly sought-after herds. Imperial victory is assumed by all to be a foregone conclusion until an exile named Redmask returns to the Awl. Hardened by years in the outside world, aware of the impending genocide against his people and invulnerable under the protection of two K'Chain Che'Malle, Redmask unites the tribes in a desperate attempt to fight back.
In the wildernesses of the subcontinent, Seren Pedac guides a party consisting of Fear Sengar, Rhulad's eldest brother; the former slave, Udinaas; the former undead child Kettle; and the Tiste Edur's ancient enemy Silchas Ruin. Fear seeks to find his ancestor Scabandari Bloodeye's soul in the hopes of saving his brother and his people. Silchas Ruin's motives, however, are known to no one but himself.
And as the volatile ground beneath the Empire's fragile order begins to shift, the atrocities its marauding fleets visited upon the world beyond are finally met with an answer...
Followed by Toll the Hounds.
Reaper's Gale provides examples of the following tropes:
- And I Must Scream: Implied to be the fate of Sirryn Kanar for knifing Trull Sengar. Quick Ben personally calls in a favour Hood owed him to make it happen.
- Animal Eye Spy: Bottle, Fiddler's squad mage, employs all kinds of wildlife and critters to help him keep his squad hidden, as it allows him to spread his awareness out over a large area.
- Back for the Dead: Toc Anaster, aka Toc the Younger, returns for this volume, only to bite the grass again in the finale. This time for good, albeit he becomes Hood's Herald.
- Back from the Dead:
- Brys Beddict, who is brought back as Saviour of the Empty Hold.
- Onrack, although since he was undead before, it's a special case. The sight of someone experiencing life for the first time after millennia is something to behold, as everyone agrees In-Universe.
- Hedge, though — again — a special case. He spends most of the book as a ghost before becoming all alive again.
- Bigger Is Better in Bed: Discussed and averted with Karsa Orlong and Samar Dev. The former is, admittedly, from what passes as a race of giants in the series, and the latter a normal human woman, so Karsa is quite aware of the.. impracticalities.
- Burning the Ships: Literally. Adjunct Tavore Paran orders the Malazan ships to be burned after unloading her punitive army on the shores of Lether. Under a morally ambiguous commander of uncertain motivations, being stranded on foreign shores with no way back home certainly serves to fuel speculation among the Bonehunters.
- Call to Agriculture: Played for Laughs. The two Kenryll'ah demon princes Rhulad Sengar summoned back in Midnight Tides set up shop at a Letherii farm looking for a peaceful life. Except all the neighbours run away in terror and they get their own roof brought down on them by the Bonehunters.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Menandore, Sheltatha Lore and Sukul Ankhadu suffer from it due in part to their draconic blood. Since they cannot keep it down, turning at each other in a crucial moment directly leads to their deaths.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: The Patriotists, especially Tanal Yathvanar, are not above using this for their purposes.
- Conversational Troping: Udinaas is the master of this trope in Reaper's Gale, deconstructing and lampshading various tropes in an effort to rile up Fear Sengar — with varying subtlety. At one point he launches into a lengthy rant about Dungeon Crawling, deconstructing the whole thing in great detail, while taking stabs at the noble quest as well. Species Loyalty and Thicker Than Water don't get off easily, either:Fear Sengar: Your blood is very thin, Udinaas, isn't it?Udinaas: Like water.
- Cool Mask: Redmask's red-scaled mask is made of the hide of a K'Chain Che'Malle Matron's throat, implicitly indicating that he killed her to gain her scaled hide.
- Cosmic Deadline: Reaper's Gale continues the tradition of previous Malazan books. Justified In-Universe, though. In this setting, power draws power, so the more the shit hits the fan, the more others tend to show up to grab a piece of the cake, and events have a tendency to accelerate.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: This is how many of the encounters between Malazan marines and Letherii and Tiste Edur troops play out, thanks to the Malazans being Crazy-Prepared and the Letherii/Tiste Edur never having encountered foes such as the Malazans.
- Death Wail: A very poignant one is delivered by Hedge while holding Trull Sengar's dead body. Considering Hedge is not particularly known for being emotional, this hits home.
- Depraved Bisexual: Triban Gnol, who just so happens to be the son of Turudal Brizad, who is also an example, albeit milder — as in, Triban Gnol's thoughts are directly addressed, while those of his father are only implied. Other than sleeping with his own son, but they were both adults, and even the Errant recoils from what Triban Gnol does.
- Distant Prologue: The prologue of Reaper's Gale continues where that of Midnight Tides left off at an unnamed point during The Time of Myths, during the Age of Sundering in the Time of the Elder Gods, and shows the downfall of Scabandari Bloodeye right after the Tiste Edur invasion.
- Dumb Is Good: Beak is completely unfamiliar with the concept of nastiness, despite a childhood that would make lesser men cynical. He is also an incredible mage powered by The Power of Friendship.
- Eye Scream: The Errant loses an eye when Feather Witch catches him by surprise. She then swallows it.
- Evil Chancellor: Triban Gnol, who majorly cares about isolating Rhulad Sengar and furthering his own ambitions.
- The Exile: Redmask is said to have been exiled to the wildlands to the east for speaking out against his tribe's Elders, after they refused to allow him to unite the clans against the invading Letherii.
- Fantasy Gun Control: The Malazan sappers' crossbow-mounted munitions prove to be more than a match even for Silchas Ruin in his Eleint Soletaken form.
- Fingore: Feather Witch has a pencant for stabbing people in the eyes with fingers she took from dead guardsmen.
- Funetik Aksent: Nep Furrow and his nigh unintelligible dialogue.Eggit'way fra meen!
- Gladiator Games: Rhulad Sengar, master of the Letherii and Edur, uses his infinite power to send fleets across the world- to capture competitors to battle in an arena, all in the hopes of finding someone who can finally kill the Emperor of the Thousand Deaths for good. A Seguleh, Icarium, and Karsa Orlong are just three of the many hardened warriors his fleets bring back. Karsa puts Rhulad down, permanently.
- Head-Turning Beauty:
- Her Heart Will Go On: Seren Pedac, after the death of Trull Sengar. It shows character development on her part, as instead of just going on as she's always done before, she re-evaluates the situation and decides to settle down.
- Hero Worship: Bruthen Trana basically worships Brys Beddict after having witnessed the latter's swordsmanship in the finale of Midnight Tides.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Hannan Mosag's plan to destroy the Malazan invaders involves unleashing a wave of corrupted Edur Sorcery that will decimate them and the Edur forces. Beak doesn't like that at all and uses all of his Warrens to create a protective shield large enough to shelter the Malazans and the Edur. Beak is turned to ash by the act, but he saves everyone on both sides of the conflict.
- Hidden Elf Village: The Andara. Deconstructed. Being an isolationist Underground City ruled over by ancient wizards who, according to Udinaas, probably can't even agree on the hem length of their robes, the Andara is not a pleasant place to live. There are barely any pure-blooded Andii left, and eventually, it is dealt with swiftly by Orbyn Truthfinder and his mages.
- Hope Spot: In Chapter Nine, the power struggles within the Edur Empire of Lether briefly turn against the most amoral and harmful groups involved as Karos Invictad overreaches against the Edur elite, moving to arrest their ally First Concubine Nisall without proper intelligence or preparation. Bruthen Trana, the most proactive of the Edur determined to regain control of the empire, leads a contingent of warriors against the headquarters of the Patriotists and briefly has both Chancellor Triban Gnol and Invictad at his mercy. Nisall, however, has already signed a confession to treason by the time Trana arrives in order to avoid Cold-Blooded Torture, which enables Invictad to murder her without having to fear his version of events being contradicted. Trana, who is less than proficient at underhanded politics, ignores the obvious possibility of destroying the confession and killing Invictad, and instead leaves both Gnol and Invictad alive but beaten and humiliated. Needless to say, neither underestimates their Edur opponents another time and their power over the imperial state remains unbroken until the end.
- Idiot Savant: Beak, who just wants to be friends with everyone, has an incredible natural magical ability that would've put him on the fast track to High Mage rank, if not for a combination of Ambiguous Disorder, childhood traumas and a Forrest Gumpish mental state — which combine to give him No Social Skills and a mental handicap in understanding the world around him unless it has to do with magic. Even that he simplifies to a great degree. While other mages see magic as a complicated net of cause and effect, Beak simply sees differently coloured candles. And while other rmages can use one, maybe two of the Paths of Magic, Beak can use all of them. The other mages usually take a whiff of his magical potential, hear him babbling on about something and just give him a hug before they walk away crying.
- In the Back:
- Sirryn Kanar stabs Trull Sengar in the back while the latter is momentarily distracted, courtesy of the Errant. He seems to be thinking it's a "The Dog Bites Back"-moment against the the latter's whole people for conquering Lether, except Trull Sengar is the only one not to be blamed.
- Towards the end of the book, there's a Call-Back to Scabandari backstabbing Silchas Ruin in the prologue of Midnight Tides. Fear Sengar tries to stab Silchas Ruin in the back, and he is a descendant of one of Scabandari's followers. He is then however in turn killed from behind with a garotte by Clip, who is a descendant of one of Silchas Ruin's followers from the time the first backstabbing happened.
- Killed Off for Real: It's a staple of the series, but for this book: Trull Sengar, Fear Sengar, Tomad & Uruth Sengar, Beak, Redmask, Taralack Veed, Feather Witch, Hannan Mosag, Karos Invictad, Triban Gnol, Rautos Hivanar, and (finally) Rhulad Sengar.
- Kill the Cutie: Justified. Kettle held the seed to a new Azath House within her, and Silchas Ruin had to kill her in order for the seed to take root.
- Laughing Mad: Quick Ben has a moment where he starts laughing uncontrollably, and higher-pitched than usual, right after he confronts Menandore, Shaltatha Lore and Sukul Ankhadu head-on, they turn on each other and all hell breaks lose. Having been reminded of all the friends he's lost over time, seeing Hedge knocked out by a stray dragon vertebra pushes Quick Ben over the edge for the moment.
- Like a God to Me: Cuttle thinks that now he can die in peace when he watches Fiddler prepare the Drum. For Cuttle, Fiddler is the god of sappers.
- Literally Shattered Lives: An interesting case. Hedge and Emroth, one of the T'lan Imass serving the Crippled God, traverse the icy expanses of the Jaghut realm of Death. Right before they cross into the Refugium, Hedge decides against taking the risk, and chugs a cusser at Emroth. Chunks of her fly over the border and flop down made of flesh and blood instead of skin and bone.
- Locked Up and Left Behind: Rhulad Sengar, who is being driven insane by his Artifact of Doom sword, orders his parents chained up in the dungeons after they dared speak against him in open court. When he remembers later to let them out, he's told that they drowned when the dungeons flooded, days earlier.
- Luke Noun Verber: Orbyn Truthfinder, Section Commander of the Patriotists.
- Monster Is a Mommy: Played straight without the bonus points for cuteness. Onrack tracks an emlava, the story's equivalent of a steroid-using saber-tooth tiger, and kills it, only to realize after the fact that its behavior was not typical of a hunting emlava. It had several cubs and his party takes over stewardship of them. Said cubs are less than cute, requiring that the characters regularly check to ensure no limbs are in range of them.
- My Greatest Failure: Despite all the horrifying things that were done to him as a child, the one thing Beak remembers and regrets from that time was that he witnessed his brother hanging himself in the family barn, and was too small and weak to lift him and stop his suicide.
- New Old Flame: Janath Anar for Tehol Beddict. She is introduced in this book for the first time, and it turns out Tehol was pining after her when he was a student.
- Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: The Onyx Wizards of the Andara can't seem to agree on anything, detaining Silchas Ruin's party unneccessarily until he pulls rank and tell them where to stuff it. Decision speed isn't helped by them singing their arguments, in which they can't even agree on the tempo and — as far as Udinaas is concerned — they're probably arguing about the length of their robes, anyway.
- Not Too Dead to Save the Day: Hedge, who — together with Quick Ben — shows up just in time to help convince Silchas Ruin that attacking Letheras is a bad idea. With the help of Cussers, of course.
- Oh, Crap!:
She swung herself onto her horse and tugged it towards the north trail. ‘We left a debt in blood,’ she said, baring her teeth. ‘Malazan blood. And it seems they will not let that stand.’
- Yan Tovis's reaction upon seeing the burning Malazan ships, and realizing their meaning:
They are here. On this shore.
The Malazans are on our shore.
- Persecuted Intellectuals: The Patriotists purge a part of Letheras' intellectual elite early on in the book. After the academics with influential families protest, no new arrests are made but those already imprisoned are never seen again. Though intellectuals generally tend to be anti-authoritarian and the Patriotists certainly need no special reason to persecute people, we also learn that Karos Invictad, the Invigilator of the Patriotists, is a former (failed) student himself, and it is heavily implied that he is conducting the purge out of revenge.
- Personalized Afterlife: A rare honor granted by Hood to Beak after he saves both the Malazan and the Edur armies by unleashing the powers of all the Warrens and disintegrating his body. Hood recreates the homestead Beak remembers from his childhood, with the spirit of his brother before he hung himself in shame from the sexual abuse of their mother. Beak being Beak, he doesn't understand (or care) about Hood's statement that he's been afforded a rare honor by the God of Death and runs to play with his brother for all eternity.
- The Power of Friendship: This motivates the squad mage Beak's Heroic Sacrifice, as he finally feels accepted — something he'd been looking for all his life.
- Precision F-Strike: Right after having several people turn up univited in his dreams, Udinaas — already plagued by sleeplessness and general misery — demands the group move on, revealing he knows that the day and night cycle within the realm they're traversing is being controlled by Silchas Ruin's will. Clip can't help himself and inserts a quip about Udinaas being too smart for his own good and gets settled with a Precision F-Strike for his trouble by Udinaas, who usually never curses.Clip: 'You understand too much. Did you hear me, Udinaas?'
Udinaas: 'Go fuck yourself.'
- A Protagonist Shall Lead Them: Deconstructed with Redmask. He walks out of the Wastelands claiming he's the Chosen One who once was banished but is now back to unite the tribes of the Awl against the invading and oppressive Letherii. He forcibly takes leadership of the tribes and initially it seems like he was right all along. But, eventually, he badly miscalculates a battle and is slain by his own K'Chain Che'Malle. Left to their own devices, leaderless and defeated, the Awl never recover. In the end it turns out that Redmask himself was not even an Awl, but a Letherii who was kidnapped by the Awl as a boy and then driven out into the Wastelands for some minor transgression.
- Sanity Slippage: Karos Invictad, head of Lether's secret police, loves to solve puzzles to prove his own mental superiority. Tehol sends him one- a centipede in a box with moving colored tiles, constantly chasing its own tail. When the tiles are arranged in a certain manner, the centipede will stop moving. If the puzzle isn't solved in time, the insect will die and the puzzle is failed. If the insect is touched, the puzzle is failed. Karos is delighted at first, but he becomes gradually more and more unhinged and terrible at his job as he obsesses over all the ways he moves the tiles but the insect never stops. He goes from an efficient head of the secret police to a ravenous loon via Villainous Breakdown by the end of the novel.
- The solution as revealed by Tehol? If you fog up any one of the tiles with your breath, then the insect will see its reflection and stop spinning.
- Scaled Up:
- The mage Quick Ben uses the ability of the demi-goddesses Menandore, Sheltatha Lore and Sukul Ankhadu to turn into dragons against them. Since all dragons, true or not, have a bad case of the Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, he waits until they all veer in order to attack him, then leads them into turning on each other.
- Also, in a deliberate anticlimax, Silchas Ruin veers into a dragon in order to attack the city of Letheras because he feels like it, only to be driven off by a couple of soldiers with grenades who shout that they'd had enough of dragons for the day.
- Secret Police: Karos Invictad and his Patriotists, an organisation established to catch dissenters and people working against the Empire's new ruler, although in truth they just do what Karos Invictad pleases and imprison people who might see through their methods, e.g. Janath Anar, an academic.Karos Invictad: We're not interested in factual reportage here.
- Single-Target Sexuality: Badan Gruk, who only has eyes for Sinter, and even followed her when she joined the military.
- Slain in Their Sleep: Bruthen Trana. Hannan Mosag convinces him to go looking for Brys Beddict via soul travelling, then promptly puts a knife in his heart.
- Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Udinaas spends the majority of Reaper's Gale discussing slavery at length. As a baseline, he abhors slavery in all its guises, but also argues that being a slave was the best thing to have happened to him. He starts out as reasonably content with his lot, but then, his 'freedom' prior to being enslaved consisted of indentured servitude on a galley to repay a family debt, while being a slave of the Tiste Edur meant enough food and shelter. Nonetheless, he goes as far as to argue that he hates all forms of inequality and slavery so much that by virtue of his very nature he would've felt compelled to rebel if he had not been kept busy scraping fish all day and that this would have affected way more people negatively than just him. When he finally ends up free and without debt, he reacts very testily to anything reminding him of his former situation and goes as far as comparing Seren Pedac's spying on his dreams to rape, assuming she was only willing to disregard his privacy because he used to be a slave and remains so in her subconsciousness.
- Small, Secluded World: The Refugium is a small chunk of primeval tundra that's been squirreled away from any outside influence hundreds of thousands of years ago. It is populated by the last remnants of living, flesh-and-bone Imass and can be reached from the the outside, but only by knowing where it is or by first traversing the icy Jaghut Realm of Death. Rud Elalle, who grew up among the Imass of the Refugium, is at first eager to see more of the outside world, but changes his mind quickly when he finds out its existence is at risk and becomes just as eager to die in the Refugium's defense.
- Someone to Remember Him By: Seren Pedac discovers she is pregnant after her love interest Trull Sengar has a particularly random bridge dropped on him via a random knife In the Back. It even manages to check all the bonus points: they have sex exactly once, on the night of the book's final, and it's also the latter's first time (technically). At least that last part is gender flipped.
- Spanner in the Works: The scheming among the Letherii and Edur elite for command of imperial power, and to a lesser extent even the hidden struggle between the Liberty Consign and Tehol Beddict over the future of Lether as a society, ultimately end up mattering little due to Karsa Orlong and Tavore Paran. As the Bonehunters destroy the Empire's armies and capture Letheras, and Karsa kills Rhulad Sengar with finality, power passes out of Letherii and Edur hands entirely. The varied factions of the Eternal Domicile are all destroyed, the foundations for the political calculations of everyone involved fall away and even Tehol's reign comes about by leave of the Bonehunter occupation.
- Spirit Advisor: Continues what was begun in Midnight Tides, but now deconstructing it. Wither, who has remained with Udinaas after the events of Midnight Tides, keeps hounding the ex-slave and whispering pseudo-arcane revelations until Udinaas points out how anyone with a working brain should be able to come to the same conclusions. Wither is not happy and tries to kill Udinaas in the finale.Udinaas: Your problem, Wither, is your damned expectations. You hounded me for months and months, and now you feel the need to have made it – me – worth all that attention. So here you are, pushing some kind of sage wisdom on this broken slave, but I told you then what I'll tell you now. I'm nothing, no-one. Understand?
- Take a Third Option: When dueling Rhulad Sengar, who comes back into life stronger than before, the options at first seem to be either a) die, or b) keep killing him until you're too tired / he's too strong and he kills you. Karsa figures out how to get around this by following Rhulad's spirit into the Crippled God's island domain and killing Rhulad there.
- Trial of the Mystical Jury: When Silchas Ruin and his companions come upon the Tiste Andii of the Andara, the Onyx Wizards insist on detaining them and stage what looks like a trial, where they argue back and forth with Silchas. Udinaas even lampshades this by saying the wizards and Silchas are probably arguing the manner of Fear Sengar's execution. The trope is defied, however, as Silchas Ruin eventually pulls rank, being the younger brother of Anomander Rake, whom the Tiste Andii of the Andara worship.
- Villainous Breakdown: Secret Police chief Karos Invictad breaks down when Tehol Beddict continually outwits him, really losing it when Tehol demonstrates his superior intellect by solving a puzzle Karos Invictad deemed impossible — and which Tehol created, incidentally, in order to distract Karos Invictad.
- Wacky Wayside Tribe: The Andara for Silchas and the rest of those travelling with him. The only purpose in derailing their journey to the Andara seems to be in picking up Clip.
- While Rome Burns: The Edur and Lether armies are scattered, the outer provinces of the Empire are in open revolt, and 14th Army is at the gates of the capital. Emperor Rhulad Sengar can't be bothered though. He's too busy fighting Karsa Orlong, trying to find a warrior that can kill him for good. Karsa gets the job done.
- You No Take Candle: Used by the Malazans to make themselves seem like harmless foreigners in front of Brullyg and the other islanders of Second Maiden Fort. Even though they speak Letherii quite well, what Shurq Elalle gets to hear is more along the lines of:'Why, Captain, it is simple. We comes to goes all the ice. So Brullyg he rewards us. Guests. Royal guests. Now we keep him company. He is smiles nice all the time. We nice too.'
- You Shall Not Pass!: Trull Sengar stands against both Silchas Ruin and Clip in order to protect Scabandari Bloodeye's Finnest. Neither make it past him.